Wednesday, June 30, 2010

More Cutbacks & Bed Closures for Sligo General Hospital

Yet more cutbacks and bed closures are on the way for Sligo General Hospital. As if the cuts already implemented have not had a negative enough impact on patient care, the HSE (Health Service Executive) have confirmed that what they term the "breakeven plan" for the Hospital will be available shortly and that it will involve yet more cutbacks.

At a recent meeting of the Regional Health Forum West, the Regional Director of Operations for HSE West John Hennessy said that the Hospital was facing a budget deficit this year of €12 million and as a result further cutbacks were on the way. In what can only be described as the understatement of the year, Hennessy admitted that the cutbacks would have "some impact" on frontline services, saying that among the cuts would be more bed closures.

According to Hennessy, "the proposed plan covers a wide range of areas to be addressed including reconfiguring existing services, reviewing all non pay lines including locum cover for staff, travel, no purchase of equipment for the remainder of the year, introduction of 5-day wards and the introduction of a Same Day Admission ward area to protect elective surgery."

In another ominous signal Hennessy used the dreaded "review" word which in HSE terms generally is the first step to the removal of specific services. He said that they were "reviewing our continued ability to provide services off site such as ENT, Dermatology, Ophthalmology and Neurology to Letterkenny General Hospital and other services to local peripheral hospitals. Such is the crucial nature of of the financial position and the requirement of the hospital to break even."

All of this is bad news for a Hospital that is already reeling following cutbacks in recent years which already have caused extreme hardship for patients and staff alike. Last year, the hospital seen the closure of 72 beds and the removal of breast cancer services to Galway. Elective surgery was completely cancelled for the last two months of 2009.
Sligo General has already lost one of its two orthapaedic wards, resulting in capacity in the single ward now reduced from 52 beds to 18 beds and has also seen an increase in the numbers of patients waiting more than three months to recieve a potentially life saving colonoscopy. Those waiting more than three months has jumped dramatically from 44 in December to 99 in May.

Particularly telling is Hennessey's comment above where he talked about "the requirement of the hospital to break even". This is indeed the nub of the problem with the HSE and the health service in this state. The health service is meant to be a public service. The HSE and their political masters in what passes for government in Leinster House view the health service as a business and peoples medical needs as a commodity.

Balancing the books has become the priority.  This is now viewed as more important than the quality of patient care, than the unnecessary suffering they will endure, than the increasingly stressful working conditions for staff and ultimately more important than the lives of those who have died due to such cutbacks. The unfortunate reality is that the proposed new cutbacks will only lead to further unnecessary suffering and deaths.
Until that mentality is consigned to the dustbin of history then we will never see an efficient health service that meets the needs of all the people and not just the wealthy as is currently the case.
There is no excuse for cutting funding and services for hospitals. It is clearly a deliberate political decision and strategy based on Fianna Fáil's and the now-defunct PD's (Progressive Democrats) right wing privatisation ideology. When it comes to throwing tens of billions of euros to bail out the banks or €8 million to bring the Commander in Chief of the British army to this state next year Fianna Fáil and the Greens have no problem. Yet ask them to invest in our hospitals and create an efficient health service that deals with patients on the basis of a person's medical need as opposed to a person's wealth and they tell us the money is just not there.

But as already pointed out, the money is there, only they believe bailing out the banks is more important than our health. This remains a very wealthy state, however the wealth is controlled by a small minority. As workers and those on welfare have seen their incomes slashed, the rich in this state have become even richer. Yet the administration in Leinster House refuses to introduce a wealth tax and refuses to nationalise our natural resources which would bring in hundreds of billions of euros that could be used to create a first class health service for all. 

This callous indifference to people's suffering has been a hallmark of Fianna Fáil in government, particularly with Mary Harney as Health Minister. They are unfit to hold office and need to be removed. More importantly, the capitalist system that they operate which encourages this greed before need mentality, needs to be overthrown. We need to create a new Ireland, a socialist Ireland that caters for all its citizens, that improves working and living standards and that provides a first class health service that is accessible to all regardless of wealth. We owe it to the generations to come.

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